The Little Prince has grown big over the years, really huge, since its first double publication (French and English) in New York in 1943. There are few other books that have been translated into over 200 languages. Some of these languages have otherwise only ever seen the bible translated before. This book can therefore be said to have been and still being a huge success. But what makes it so special?
Lovers ask no questions it is said, and readers are book lovers. Nonetheless: What keeps this little book alive over generations? What makes it so precious? Maybe it is the moment of first reading it. The easy language resonates with readers long after they laid down the book.
One of the charms of the book is the combination of text and pictures both from the hand of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. And while traditional publishing would ask for the pictures to accompany the text, the author has turned this credo upside down. The text explains the pictures much more than the other way round. This makes the book so memorable for children, and as grown-ups they carry their personal picture of the Little Prince with them indelibly. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s text never gives a description of the prince and of pretty little else, either. With many descriptive stimuli missing, readers are left to their own devices to fill the gaps with their own imagination. This makes the reading of the book an intensely personal matter and helps them make it their very own.
Maybe the element of a romantic and dramatic reality in the author’s live behind and on top of the story adds additional layers of depth far deeper than the literary genius. While the French Academy might object to the simplistic language used, it helps readers to understand the story and its content across borders, cultures, and personal age. And the language is a voluntary expression of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s vision of valuing lived experience over logically assimilated knowledge.
All the best stories are the ones that relate travel adventures and that explain transformation and metamorphosis. Cult books are made of this, like the Lord of the Rings. And adolescent readers are themselves in transition, in metamorphosis. In that respect, the Little Prince relates directly to what they are going through and resonates with their own quest of defining the world around them and making sense of it.
Besides the simple language, Antoine de Saint-Exupery uses all the known descriptions and scenes from fairy-tale and myth. He has given this story about a rite of passage an insistent, repetitive language with well-known metaphors to make it more memorable. Talking to animals, going to places unimaginably far away, and entering the Otherworld are used free of cultural bias. This makes the book universally understandable and relatable.
The story of the rose can be seen in relation to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s wife Consuelo Suncin de Sandoval. She published with The Tale Of The Rose a psychological essay over love gone wrong. The figures in the Little Prince on the other hand are free of psychological trappings which makes the story even more childlike and understandable.
The charm of the book becomes inescapable once you enter its hybrid time scheme. As the dedication states: To Leon Werth when he was a small boy. As opposed to ‘once upon a time’ the story becomes more immediate and relevant with the call to the child within. What once was possible for the child suddenly comes into the grasp of the adult. What once was relevant regains its place in an adult world often out of balance with personal needs. At such moments, bringing back the Little Prince makes a lot of sense. There are worse things than being reminded that everything is still possible.
And with the second dedication ‘to the small child that this grown-up once was’, we are able to enter the poetic landscape and childlike emotion that keep the Little Prince alive in all readers. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’
References: Book ‘Le Petit Prince’; Author ‘Antoine de Saint-Exupery’; Publisher ‘Gallimard’; Published ‘Paris, 1945’. Book ‘La memoire du Petit Prince’; Author ‘Jean-Pierre Gueno’; Publisher ‘Jacob-Duvernet’; Published ‘Paris, 2009’.
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